Inside Higher Ed’s takeaway from a recent Moody’s Investor Service report is the Coronavirus Pandemic will “drive innovation and growth in higher education, allowing some universities to emerge stronger with growing enrollments and revenue.” Their thinking is strength and growth will come about by building out online capabilities and expanding non-degree and certificate programs. While this may be true, other ways to grow enrollments and revenue with much less effort are available.

Three ways that come to mind involve tweaking legacy rules that mostly affect graduate students, but that no longer serve their original intended purpose. One rule is the requirement to complete a degree within five years, another is the rule that prevents students from taking a course for credit more than once, and the third is requiring alumni to apply to take a course rather than allowing them to register as a student when class capacity permits. Let me explain my thinking by providing some background.


These three ways come to mind because of the rate of change that’s occurring outside of the university. In most cases, the rate of change outside of higher education organizations is greater than what we find inside these organizations. Still common are major curriculum change efforts and new program creation taking two years or more to complete. This can cause the curriculum to be out-of-date. Fortunately, talented faculty members often reinvent their courses each time they teach them because of outside of the classroom changes that are occurring in their discipline. This means a part-time MBA student taking three or more years to complete their degree is likely graduating, having taken courses that no longer resemble what’s now taught in those same courses even though the catalogue number and description have not changed. With this background, let’s look at each of these rules.

Five Year Degree Completion

Many graduate degree programs require matriculating students to complete their degree within five years of enrolling in their program. Given the rate of change that is occurring outside higher education, perhaps there could be an argument for reducing this to two years. Alternatively, eliminating the time limit could cause students to become lifelong learners that continue taking courses in their program of choice as long as it helps them professionally. This becomes more relevant as employers shift their focus from hiring degree holders to knowledge holders, individuals that can do their job and will retool as the job requirements change. This could lead to a growing list of students for which knowledge is more important than completing a degree but want to continue taking courses (earning credit hours) that support them professionally.

Repeating Courses for Graduation Credit

Retaking a course is difficult at most institutions because once a student completes a course, the registration system blocks them from repeating the same course. The intent is to prevent students from taking a course multiple times for graduation credit. Referring back to the part-time MBA student that takes three or more years to complete their degree, they could graduate having taken courses that faculty members substantially revise each time they teach the course and not have the choice of taking the course again. Or what if the course is an experiential learning course that uses consulting projects with local companies and with each offering the faculty member introduces new projects which means students would gain a whole new experience? Making it easier for students to repeat courses could lead to a growing list of students for which knowledge is more important than getting graduation credit for the course but want to take the course (earning credit hours) for the knowledge.

Alumni Course Enrollment

Employed and unemployed alumni often want to take classes. Sometimes the reason is professional development and continuing education for career progression, and sometimes it’s for improving their opportunity for reemployment or changing jobs. No matter the reason, making it easier for alumni to take courses should be a priority. Many institutions require graduates to reapply to a program before they can take a course. Why do this? They matriculated once and graduated. Why make them reapply to take another graduate course or even an undergraduate course? Giving alumni easy access to courses provides them a learning resource and helps grow the enrollments and revenue for the university.


All three rule changes can help students keep their knowledge base current, offer students and alumni lifelong learning opportunities, keep college credit hours a relevant metric, help support certificate and badge programs, and help address underutilized capacity issues in scheduled classes. Each time a student or alumnus takes another course, they fill a seat which adds to the credit hour count and increases the university’s revenue.

Next Steps

But changing these rules is only the first step to putting more “butts-in-seats.” Next steps, depending on the graduate program and institution, could include:

  • Identify the audience that benefits from each rule change (numbers could support rule change).
  • Adjust campus systems to make it easier to track students and alumni that would benefit from these rule changes.
  • Create marketing campaigns designed to make all students and alumni aware of the rule changes.
  • Create marketing campaigns designed to make all students and alumni aware of major course revisions and new course offerings and certificate programs.

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Content written by Rodney Alsup and published by the MBA News Digest Academy on September 11, 2020.